• March 1, 2005
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

CRM Where You Least Expect It

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The high costs and heavy lifting associated with yesteryear's CRM technology implementations are fading fast. Now, five years after the dot.com fallout, CRM success stories abound, even in what might be considered some unusual places. From repair shops to exterminators to agricultural firms, CRM magazine found winning strategies in unexpected places. Although the industries and customers they serve might not be the first examples that come to mind when contemplating CRM, these four stories prove how important it is to build positive relationships with customers, whether the product is helicopters for the government or Mattamuskeet onions to lucky Southern gourmets. A Roll of the Dice What started as a bingo parlor near Tulsa a little more than 12 years ago is today Cherokee Nation Enterprises (CNE), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cherokee Nation. A rising star in the Indian gaming industry headquartered in northeastern Oklahoma, CNE operates four Class II Indian casinos and several retail stores. One of its latest ventures began when CNE broke ground for a new casino and hotel complex in the summer of 2002. In addition to casinos, CNE knows how to build revenue. Over the past three years CNE tripled its revenue and in 2004 alone it grew its customer base by 88 percent. CNE's IT department plays an unusually large role in keeping the business healthy, and combined with the growth explosion the casinos were experiencing, CNE needed to turn to a CRM application to help keep the slot machines ringing and the customers happy. CNE is its own provider of front- and back-office support--all help desk and field desk calls are handled by the casino's IT department. Prior to the CRM technology implementation, service technicians would record information with a pad and pencil, which naturally increases the likelihood for mistakes and lost information. What's worse, CNE had several functioning IT areas, all of them with different incident tracking systems and none connected to a centralized and shared customer service database. By having separate, disconnected systems in place, technicians had no way of knowing if problems in two different areas were related. "We would be dispatching service technicians to the wrong location, have the wrong contact information, wrong phone number to call people back." says Aaron Bean, CNE's manager of technical services and employee solutions. "There was no single system of record for all of this information." Realizing a need for change, Bean decided to roll the dice with PeopleSoft Enterprise HelpDesk. The support application gave the IT department "a single tool, a single interface, and a unified front for customer service," he says. With the solution CNE's IT department transformed from a standard call center/help desk to a full-fledged service desk. Bean and his staff now have standard service practices to follow each time a problem occurs no matter the customer's location, thanks to a single customer database. The payoff? Bean saw a significant increase in issue resolution. Despite a customer base increase of 88 percent, the IT department only had to grow 30 percent, an unexpected ROI for Bean and his staff. "Everything from a hotel guest not being able to connect to the Internet, a buffet clerk having problems ringing somebody up, or a buyer purchasing equipment--we handle everything," Bean says. Still, there remained one major challenge plaguing the casino's lifeblood-- electronic game-machine downtime. "In a casino, during peak hours, if customers are standing on line to put dollars in and there's a machine down-- simply put, that's a problem," Bean says. Currently, CNE has more than 2,200 machines on its casino floors, and new machines are installed almost every day. Given the number of electronic gaming and conventional computers that CNE operates, Bean and his staff were facing a monumental task. By giving the four technicians who repair these machines handheld wireless devices connected to HelpDesk, they gain instant access to each machine's repair history, making troubleshooting much easier. The IT department has cut average machine downtime in half, which alone has saved CNE $400,000 per year. Taking Flight
It's one of the oldest helicopter companies in the country, having just celebrated its 50th anniversary a little over a year ago. With four divisions, including maintenance/overhaul, a flight division with 35 air medical-transport choppers, an engine overhaul division, and a federally certified engineering department, Keystone Helicopter is not your typical CRM adopter. Still, its diverse set of clients demand perfection. Keystone works on rotary aircraft for the Army, Navy, FBI, DEA, air medical market, and Fortune 500 corporations with flight departments. "Our customer base is wide, horizontal, and diversified. Sales management and customer relations is extremely difficult because of the markets we're in and the varied products we offer," says Rick Hinkle, vice president of sales for Keystone Helicopter. Prior to the CRM installation, Keystone Helicopter had "very poor database management," Hinkle says. Its customer information resided on various salespeople's Rolodexes, customized personal computer databases, and so on. There was no central customer database at all. Sales groups were decentralized and located inside each of the company's four divisions. It all had to be managed while sales were taking flight. Keystone garnered $45 million in sales four years ago with 200 employees. Now the company has more than 600 employees and rakes in $125 million in sales. Last October, Hinkle and the sales department decided to fire up their customer service efforts to ensure that the company's rotors keep spinning. Hinkle chose Salesforce.com, because the sales department was attracted to the Internet-based solution's ease of access and Hinkle liked the low monthly pay-as-you-go price tag. The implementation brought immediate relief. Keystone Helicopter can now import data from numerous sources through the company's Web site. Salespeople on the road can now download opportunities into the sales database and automatically assign responsibilities. If a customer needs a specialty assignment completed, such as a new paint job for an aircraft fuselage, Hinkle receives the information immediately and can assign it to the specialist internally who deals with quoting paint. "When a salesperson or tech representative sees an opportunity in the field, he can establish and highlight it in our database and then assign it so that morning I can see what a customer wants, have all their customer data in front of me, and approve it," Hinkle says. "It makes my job a lot easier and improves on our response time to customers." Keystone's direct marketing campaigns have also significantly improved. Now the sales department can focus its campaigns on just chief pilots, department managers, or only those flying Sikorsky S76s, Hinkle says. "We can very quickly put together a campaign that's focused and personalized toward that customer," he says. Small Town Sizzle It's one of the typical American family farming enterprises, located in North Carolina. Wilson and Debbie Daughtry founded Alligator River Growers in 2001 with three telephone lines and two clipboards for order sheets. Wilson boasts of the company's humble beginnings. "We're just a simple farming operation that me and my wife own together," he says. The operation stayed simple until the state Farm Bureau called. "They ran a story about us in the Farm Bureau magazine with a picture of our four-year-old daughter holding a handful of onions. Two weeks after the magazine hit the mail, we had taken about 1,000 orders for onions to be shipped," he says. The onions in the picture are the Daughtrys' now-famous Mattamuskeet sweet onions that have helped farm sales bloom. Combined with some 3,800 acres of grain crops and about 1,400 acres of produce crops to care for, Wilson and Debbie faced a serious dilemma as the company grew. Their previous order management process was a nightmare. The system, essentially a patchwork of the ACCPAC general ledger, and separate account payables and payroll applications, would not scale quickly enough or handle complex orders. On two separate occasions the company lost almost an entire year of general ledger data when the system crashed, requiring weeks of reentry time and consulting to recreate the records. The cost of operating all of the independent systems was also distressing. "We couldn't find a stand-alone package with the features we needed for the size that our operation had grown to. We had three different products for three different things and we were paying three different support payments each year. So our software technician suggested NetSuite," Wilson says. The low-cost, pay-as-you-go hosted solution brought immediate relief, connecting River Growers' ledger, accounts payable, payroll, and ordering systems to one centralized location. The solution resolved Wilson and Debbie's order entry problems, and they were able to start up a new Web site with a Web store. What's more, River Growers is currently saving $1,200 a month in general IT maintenance, support, and upgrades due to the elimination of multiple software programs and the annual maintenance fees and subscription costs that accompany them. "It really streamlined the process and eliminated a lot of the extra labor involved in fulfilling orders, processing credit cards, and printing shipping labels. It takes a lot of people to do that when you don't have an integrated system. It was a big cost advantage," Wilson says. The other advantage to using NetSuite was the booming popularity of the Daughtrys' Mattamuskeet sweet onions. With the Farm Bureau magazine article and the word-of-mouth, River Growers has seen increasing business opportunities for an onion that, prior to turning to CRM, the company couldn't fulfill. "People would walk by and buy a box of onions and say, 'I wish I could get my aunt and uncle two states over a box of these.' We had to come up with a way to take orders, do a little advertising, things like that," Wilson says. NetSuite allowed the Daughtrys to advertise the onions on the company's Web site and automatically take order entries from customers via either the Internet or phone. "It answered all our needs and [allows] us to grow over the years," Wilson says. Silver Dollars It's not often you'll find a CRM system inside a restaurant; a restaurant's IT department is typically seen as a cost, not a strategic investment. However, IHOP CEO Julia Stewart recognized that an investment in IT would help nourish America's third largest family-style diner chain like a warm plate of flapjacks. One of the priorities was to transform the corporate headquarters into a restaurant support center that would better serve the needs of IHOP franchisees and restaurant guests. "While it may seem unusual for a family dining company to use customer relationship management, we knew immediately it was the right thing to do," Patrick Piccininno, IHOP's vice president of information technology, says. IHOP started its latest CRM initiative by implementing a toll-free telephone number for its customer call center and a supporting application that would enable restaurant guests to provide feedback and information regarding their experiences within a restaurant. Previously, the IT department had no idea if guest issues were being resolved. Customer information and comments were being manually tracked in eight different locations using disparate databases and various touch point systems that had been put into place over the years. Various divisions in IHOP had a different slice of the relationship with their customers, and in many instances, the data never stayed consistent. Piccininno had no idea if separate franchises were experiencing the same problems to identify trends and make changes. This led IHOP to select Oracle Projects as a solution. "It was an effort to really pull together all the disparate systems and build them around one model, a customer hub," Piccininno says. "For us, it was the notion of a single source of truth. One record, one database, one central repository of all [our] customer information was really vital to providing consistency across all groups within the corporation." Now, IHOP has the toll-free number and the ability to capture guest feedback. The IT department can log, track, and route the information through employees, franchises, and field organizations, to quickly follow up with customers and implement changes with separate franchises. Previously, IHOP had no way of knowing how long it took to resolve customer problems. Today, however, IHOP is reporting an average resolution time of three days. IHOP executives also wanted to track the progress of franchisees' commitments to build restaurants. Two years ago, IHOP would select the location for a restaurant, build it, install all the various capital components, and make the investments in the franchisees. Today things have changed. Now the franchisees invest in their own restaurant and IHOP needs to track and manage the commitments they've made, such as the number of restaurants they need to build, locations, and time commitments. Using Oracle Projects, IHOP is tracking new restaurants right down to the type of fabric an investor is using in the booths. "Our [customers] just aren't the people who walk in and out of our restaurants, but also our franchisees who we support," Piccininno says. "Supporting them is just as important as supporting the customers who enjoy our food." Contact Editorial Intern Colin Beasty at cbeasty@destinationCRM.com
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